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Thursday November 30, 2000

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'Taming' The Cellar, one last time

By Maggie Burnett

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Cross-gendered 'Shrew' opens tonight in The Cellar

The University Activities Board's "Shakespeare in The Cellar" student series will end its six-year run with William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" tonight in The Cellar.

Director Seamus O'Bryan said one of the most interesting qualities of this particular production of "Shrew" is how several students were cast in cross-gendered roles, or roles opposite to that of their own sex.

"We've worked hard to get a message across that has more than one meaning," said Will Harris, one of the actors. "Depending on your viewpoint, everyone will see it differently."

Harris, a Spanish and history junior, was cast in the part of Bianca, the sister of the "shrew" whose kind-hearted personality stops just short of her own sibling.

He said that at the time Shakespeare wrote the play, women were publishing pamphlets demanding more satisfaction from men and society in general. Shakespeare wrote the play as a way of putting women "back in their place."

Media arts junior Eliza Robinson, playing the male-role of Hortensio, said she felt being a part of "The Taming of the Shrew" caused her to questions gender roles in society.

"As a (female) actor portraying a male part, I tried to be myself but play a guy," she said. "I started dealing with gender roles and stereotypes ingrained from society. We joke about it, but it really is interesting to see behind closed doors what really goes on."

Robinson added that playing a male character in the play caused her to think twice about gender stereotypes in society.

"On thing about this play, especially with cross-gendering, is you start questioning who is really in charge in our relationships," she said. "We live in a patriarchal society, but I can say, at home, it's my mom who's in charge."

O'Bryan, a theater arts sophomore, said that "Shakespeare in The Cellar" was started as an opportunity for non-theater majors to perform in Shakespeare's plays.

"I like to see non-professional performers, because to me, it's almost more real. The enthusiasm is overwhelming," O'Bryan said. "To me, this is more enriching than to watch a trained actor on stage."

The play consists of 21 students, the majority of which are not theater majors.

"It's hard to non-majors to get into the (theater) company," Harris said. "I discovered ('Shakespeare in The Cellar') mistakenly and tried out my freshman year. It attracts intelligent and funny people."

Robinson said she agreed with Harris, reiterating the difficulty non-theater majors might have finding a niche in the UA's theater program.

"We have so much talent - talent not in the theater department, for one reason or another," she said. "In the end, you get the people who really want to do it. It's like college community theater but more relaxed."

Because The Cellar is scheduled to be demolished as part of the union's renovation, this production of "Shakespeare in The Cellar" will be the final one of the series' history.

"The show is a dedication to the founders of the (Shakespeare) series and to The Cellar - to many a student who has crashed there, studied there and eaten there," O'Bryan said. "The show itself is a tribute to The Cellar."

O'Bryan said construction crews told the students of "Shakespeare in The Cellar" to have their equipment packed and ready to move as of last week.

"No one's packed here. I didn't want to see the last opportunity for it to go by," O'Bryan said. "If there's a Cellar, there's gotta be Shakespeare."

Maggie Burnett can be reached at

INFOBOX: Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," presented by UAB's "Shakespeare in The Cellar" plays tonight and tomorrow at 7 in The Cellar. The play is open to the public, and admission is free.